Ten things I wish the public knew: #2

Drilling day2Last week, I started my short series on the ten things I wish the public knew about our industry (Ten things #1) and covered the first three. Here’s this week’s list:

4. Groundwater expertise is different than plumbing expertise.

Not all groundwater contractors are plumbers, and not all plumbers are groundwater contractors. In fact, although some water well contractors and drillers provide plumbing services as part of their business, most of the time they don’t overlap. The groundwater industry requires a distinct knowledge base and skill set–and even different equipment. Think of it this way: someone who works on melting furnaces in foundries is not the same person who would on the furnace in your home, and vice versa. Some of the underlying science and mechanics might be similar, but these are really two different jobs requiring distinct expertise.

5. We work under tight regulatory constraints.

Groundwater is a precious resource and, appropriately, obtaining a license to access and drill into it is a formidable task. In addition, nearly all states require water well contractors to receive a certain number of hours of continuing education each year in order to maintain that license. Of course, given the size and complexity of a drilling rig, there’s a significant safety and driver training component as well. We don’t just punch holes in the ground; we have to be well-trained and ensure regulatory compliance.

6. The lowest priced water system may not be the best quality water system.

I’m a firm believer that you generally get what you pay for. Go to the internet or the Yellow Pages and you’ll probably find several options for water well contractors in any given area. Whether you’re installing a new system or simply need to get back in water, the lowest price isn’t always the best option. For example, one contractor may be offering an upgraded system that includes constant pressure, whereas another may be offering a conventional system. One may offer a tank sized to meet your needs today, but another may offer a tank sized to accommodate potential demand increases. Different prices may also be reflective of different warranty options or service agreements. In the long run, it pays to understand the difference.

Next week I’ll wrap up the series with 4 more Things I wish the public knew about our business. Stay tuned.

Ten things I wish the public knew: #1

In my job, I do a lot of airline travel. Although I’m generally a limited talker with whomever ends up next to me, I often get the question, “So, what business are you in?” From these and other random encounters with the general public, I’ve built up a sizable database of its perceptions of water wells and the groundwater industry.

Drinking_waterWhat follows isn’t a revelation by any means, but I’m continually amazed at how little the general public knows about groundwater and the groundwater industry. Even end-users such as homeowners and farmers who have their own private water systems generally have little knowledge of how water gets to their tap.

Given this, I’ve decided to write a short series around the ten things I wish the public knew about our industry. You’ll find the first three below, with the rest to follow in subsequent posts.

1. Chances are, your water comes from a well, even if you don’t know it.

I consistently hear: “I’m on city water; I don’t get my water from a well.” Actually, there’s a good chance you do. For example, I live in a good-sized city with several water sources, including a river and a couple of reservoirs. However, my city also has numerous large water wells, and a significant amount of our water is supplied from those wells. But ask any of my neighbors where their water comes from and they would never think that it comes from a well.

2. Groundwater is important. So important, in fact, that we literally can’t live without it.

The general public has no deep appreciation of groundwater’s importance, and therefore the importance of the groundwater industry. Only 2.5% of the world’s water is freshwater and of that, 69% of that is locked up as ice at earth’s poles. What’s left is surface water and groundwater. Between the two, surface water comprises only 0.4% and the rest of groundwater. That’s not nearly enough surface water to supply the needs to humankind. Not only does much of our clean, fresh drinking water come from the ground, we have to have it to survive as a civilization.

3. Groundwater contractors are experts with unique professional knowledge.

Not only do groundwater contractors have to be good business people, they also have to have very specialized technical expertise. Drilling contractors, for example, often maintain more than a million dollars worth of equipment, with more bells, whistles, levers, and buttons than most people can imagine. They have to understand geology and hydrology. Pump installers have to have an outstanding working knowledge of electricity and hydraulics, and more often than not, electronic technology as well. Not everyone can do this job.

Stay tuned for more Things I wish the public knew  next week.

Sit down and discuss

In a previous career, a management tool that was required in the organization I was a part of was the “brief” and “debrief”. That is, before an event, a briefing was held with the participants in front of a whiteboard. The brief could take 10 minutes to an hour, but by the time you walked out of that room, you understood the plan and your role in it.

photo (3)Just as important was the debrief. It took place immediately after the event and had  four parts:

1. A quick review of what we set out to do.

2. An assessment of what actually happened.

3. A dialogue of why there was a difference between what we planned and what actually happened (this was usually the most interesting segment).

4. A discussion of the lessons learned both good and bad. What actions should we keep for next time and what do we NOT want to do next time?

Of course, sports teams do this type of thing as a matter of course. But these are generally one-sided affairs from the coach to the team. Properly done, both the brief and debrief should involve all of the participants. And while I hesitate to advocate more meetings, I think as businesses, we should spend more time briefing and debriefing events.

Here’s an example… If I’m involved in one of our Field Service seminars, I’ll make sure the team gets together the night before to discuss. Not only will we discuss details such as who’s presenting what material when, but we’ll also cover the big issues, like what we want the attendees to learn. .

As soon as possible after the seminar, we’ll sit down and debrief the day’s events. We’ll follow the pattern above and have a good discussion of what went right and where can we improve. It’s almost always a very worthwhile discussion.

As a water systems contractor, when does sitting down and holding a briefing make sense? How about before that sales pitch to a major customer such as a municipality? Then afterwards, sit down and debrief how it went. Or, how about before that major installation that involves lots of players? At the end of the day, what were the lessons learned?

Holding a briefing and debriefing doesn’t make sense much of the time. But, making a conscious effort to sit down before and after major events allows you to constantly improve your team’s performance and will generally be a lot more productive than just walking into an event and “winging it”.

Hibernate or cultivate?

winterBaby, it’s cold outside.

In the winter months, the ground in much of the country is frozen. Construction gears down and moves to indoor projects, fields lie dormant with no need for irrigation, and no one fills swimming pools or plays in garden hoses. The reality of our world is that we gear up for “the season” and then hunker down to weather the off-months until the next one comes around. There just isn’t much new installation work in those months, so we sit around waiting for something to break. That’s just how it is.

Or is it?

I would argue that the off-season presents a tremendous opportunity to cultivate rather than hibernate. When the business slows down, we have a chance to reach out to people, build relationships, and add value in ways that can help balance out the cyclical nature of the water systems business. Consider the following:

  • Offer a total system check, following an example often seen in the HVAC business. $99 (pick your price) for a comprehensive evaluation of water system health, including tank charge, pressure switch review, and motor resistance. Is your home ready for summer? Don’t run out of water when you need it most.
  • When people have had a full house for the holidays, they often expose the limitations of their water systems. Not enough water pressure or fluctuating water pressure may have surfaced as an issue during heavy use. While the memory is fresh, this is a great time to suggest an upgrade to a SubDrive controller or an Inline 1100 whole-house pressure booster. Did you have to schedule your shower time when Aunt Mary and her family came to visit? Make sure your system is ready for guests with SubDrive/Inline 1100! (On the flip side, you can gear up for the holidays in the same way.)

With a little creative thinking and proactive bustle, you can turn even the winter months into a profitable period for your business. Who cares if it’s cold outside?

Water Well Wednesday

Last week at the Kansas Groundwater Show in Hutchinson, Kansas, I met Bruce Reichmuth of Hydro Resources (formerly Henkle Drilling) out of Garden City, Kansas. Bruce is in a small and unique club in our industry: once a week, he goes on the air at KIUL Radio 1240 AM and talks about water wells, drilling, pumps, and just about anything else having to do with groundwater.

1240It all started a few years ago when Henkle Drilling changed their name to Hydro Resources. To make sure that their customers knew about the name change, Hydro bought a few spots on KIUL. That relationship lead to the host of Mid America in the Morning to ask Bruce to be a one-time guest on the show to talk “a little bit about water wells.”

Pretty soon it was once a week, and two years later, Bruce is still at it. Every Thursday morning around 9:40, Bruce is on the air at KIUL to talk about a groundwater topic. Topics range from seasonal considerations, drought conditions, how pumps work, simple trivia, drilling methods, and even constant pressure systems – anything that educates the audience about groundwater. Sometimes Bruce will bring a guest with him such as a fellow employee or even an unsuspecting pump salesman. On yesterday’s show, Bruce discussed the Kansas Groundwater Convention and shared some of the McEllhiney Lecture (underwritten by Franklin Electric).

Bruce says he keeps asking the station, “Are you sure you want to keep doing this? This is all very interesting to me, but are you sure it’s that interesting to your listeners?” The reply is always the same, “YES! What you’re talking about is critical to this area and our listeners want to hear and know more about it.”

It’s actually been interesting enough that Bruce’s expertise has generated another show on KBUF 1030 AM. That show is called “Water Well Wednesday” and airs live during the “Today in Agi Business” program by John Jenkinsen. This is the live broadcast from Hydro Resources’ offices once every other month.

Granted, Garden City, Kansas is a unique market area and Bruce’s radio segments wouldn’t garner the same amount of interest in Chicago or Atlanta. But it does show how important it is to provide the general public with expertise and knowledge on groundwater. Just a few minutes a week is going a long way in western Kansas.

Seize the day

Yvoire_cadran_solaireSometimes with all the marketing and sales advice out there on how to manage and grow your business, it’s easy to forget how important it is to do the simple things right. Yesterday, I ran across this blog post, Carpe Diem, from a professional colleague at Franklin Electric. At first glance, her post  may not seem as if it applies to your water systems contracting business, but read on. The real life lesson here applies just about anywhere, and especially to your business. It makes the point so well, I decided to use it as this week’s Franklin in the Field post. Even when you think things are going well, don’t be the guy who doesn’t call back; someone else will.

Enjoy.

Carpe Diem

Some scary stuff has been happening in my town. Someone has been lying in wait at apartment complexes and attacking residents as they come and go. As part of its reporting on the story, a local news program decided to include a segment on self-defense, including a demonstration of technique. Out of the blue, my brother got a call to lead that demonstration.

My brother is an expert in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. He operates a dojo in his hometown, where he offers instruction, hosts seminars, and provides a gathering place for fellow students of the art. He’s still trying to get some traction for his business, as it’s not yet widely recognized in the area. He was thrilled to get the call from the TV station, but he was also pretty surprised.

The filming went off without a hitch, and the segment looked great. (Watch it HERE. Tell me he’s not awesome!)

During the course of the filming, curiosity got the better of my brother. Before the crew left, he asked the reporter why she had selected him over anyone else. Her answer offered an immediate object lesson:

You were the first person to call me back.

No one will argue that hard work and a good product are essential to success. Others would extol the necessity of good marketing, the right price point, and brand building. And I agree wholeheartedly. What I learned in that TV reporter’s answer, however, was the importance of seizing the moment. I have to be ready to jump on opportunity–which means I must also be alert and watchful for any potential.

My brother’s business wouldn’t have suffered if someone else had returned that call first. He would have kept doing what he’s doing, working hard to bring students into his dojo and share his passion. In fact, he’ll keep doing that anyway. Since he did call back, though, he’s certainly better for it. A few more people know about him, he has a terrific video segment to boost his credibility, and his confidence got a shot in the arm.

When opportunity knocks, make sure you’re listening–and then open the door.

Not just solutions, insight

lossless-page1-671px-Two_people_talking_tiffOn several occasions, I’ve emphasized how all of us in the water systems industry are salespeople in one form or another. And as a professional contractor, you are out there week after week selling our industry’s products, services, and expertise. The customer may be a homeowner, a business owner, a farmer, or a municipality. So given the importance of selling in our industry, whenever I see a business article about what makes a successful salesperson, it always gets my interest. In a post last year (Know your stuff), I highlighted a research study done by two PhDs that I thought stated the obvious. They identified eight different sales personalities and concluded the most successful type was what they categorized as “the expert”

I recently ran across a similar study with somewhat different conclusions. In a Harvard Business Review article entitled “The End of Solution Selling”, the authors identify and evaluate not eight, but five sales personality types. There are:

  1. Relationship builders, who take the approach of always being the good guy and focusing on exactly what the customer says he or she wants.
  2. Problem solvers: These sales types dive into a customer’s problems and work diligently to solve those problems.
  3. Hard workers treat sales as a numbers game with a mentality of “if I make more sales calls than anyone else, I will be the most successful”.
  4. A fourth type is the Lone Wolf. As the name implies, these salespeople are very independent and use everything at their disposal, sometimes at the expense of their employer’s policies and procedures.

What was interesting was the fifth type. In their study of 6,000 salespeople, the authors identified this type of sales personality as by far the most successful in today’s business environment. They call this type the Challenger. Challengers are debaters. They have a specific view of what their customer needs are beyond what the customer tells them. They actively share that view with their customer. They don’t simply acquiesce to what the customer is telling them, but instead take the approach of “I’m here to provide you insight and guidance on the issues and problems you don’t know you have”.

The Challenger approach leads to “insight selling” and the big idea of the article is that “solution selling” focuses on the problems that customers tell you they have, whereas “insight selling” focuses on problems customers don’t know they have. It’s important to note that Challengers don’t cross that line of becoming obnoxious. But they are assertive in their opinions of what they believe the customer truly needs.

So, what does any of this have to do with water systems? Even though I’m always dubious of academic articles on the topic of selling, I think the authors are actually confirming what many of us already know. When it comes to water systems, most end-users have no idea what problems they really need solved. Ask a homeowner during a typical service call what their problems are and they will tell you, “I’m out of water, fix it!” The solution selling approach would be to simply get them back in water. However, the Challenger says, “Okay, I will do that, but here’s why you are out of water and here’s what we are going to do to improve your water system.” Maybe the contractor then explains why they need a larger pump, constant pressure, or dry well protection. Once again, the approach is to use expertise and experience to offer insight and guidance.

At the end of the day, you obviously can’t force something on a customer. But you can take control and offer a firm opinion on what you know your customer needs, not just what they are telling you they need. The result will probably be a better, more reliable system for your customer and more sales for you.